Wednesday, June 30, 2010

'Mystery train..'

I was on my way uptown last night and came across a blues guitar player called Delta Dave Johnson playing in the 42nd Street Subway. He was rocking an old Danelectro and harmonica and it sounded great. Listened for a while and bought one of his two CDs, 'Mean Bus Driver'.

There's more footage of Delta Dave playing over at the StreetMusicSounds blog, and a couple of photos on Flickr. One here has a bit of information, and there's a nice b/w shot here. But his web site doesn't seem to be working, so I can't give any more of a picture, except to say that his CD is well worth hearing.


On the subject of great blues, every so often I get to go through the DVR and burn to disc some shows that I want to save. There were some good ones this time, including a Mountain Stage broadcast from a couple of years back with John Hammond (son of the legendary producer who signed Springsteen to Columbia Records). He's playing next week at Lincoln Center as part of the Blind Boys of Alabama's mini-festival.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Takin it to the streets..'

Yesterday was Make Music New York day, a pretty cool idea in its fourth year, designed to celebrate the connection between musicians and open spaces across the city.

On Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn - outside Aunt Suzie's restaurant - in fact, I found Elissa Spencer and Samuel Stein, who together are The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. They sounded dive-bar-ishly mellow and I wanted to hear more, though maybe indoors might be more conducive. Their label describes their sound as "..lonesome, quiet and incisive. It delights in small silences."

I apologize to them for the sound quality here - the result of traffic noise and what was either a generator or air conditioner buzzing away on the sidewalk next to them, but even if this clip doesn't do them justice the folks watching, including me, were definitely appreciative.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

'A thousand pictures fill my head..'

Last night we went to Carnegie Hall, since a couple of friends of my stepdaughter's were in the chorus for a concert staging of Eric Whitacre's manga-inspired musical theatre piece "Paradise Lost: Shadow and Wings."

It was eye-opening. I'd never heard his music before, and it was certainly compelling stuff and melodically infectious. His work with choirs, both live - there were 425 singers on the stage last night - and virtual, is fascinating.

We met up with Che's CCM friends in the huge, excited crowd of performers and relatives outside after the show. It was a great, fun experience for them and it's easy to see why Whitacre's fans idolize him.

He has a new album coming out later in the year and will performing in London on August 2nd, at one of my favorite venues: the Union Chapel in Islington, which, while just a bit smaller than Carnegie Hall, has wonderful acoustics.

The New York Times review compared 'Paradise Lost' to work by Andrew Lloyd Webber, "with hints of Bernstein and Sondheim", but in its scope, structure and melodies, it reminded me a lot of an album that had blown me away when I was a kid, Rick Wakeman's 'Journey To The Centre of the Earth' from 1974. And happily so.

It might be too much to hope, but maybe with the sort of young audiences Whitacre is bringing to his shows, that Rick's work might get a new lease of life?

Here's a real blast from the past, Rick performing in Poland last year (this is an instrumental version of part of 'Journey' - the vocal parts on the original album along with David Hemmings' dramatic narration really brought it to life as a brilliant escapist vision).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'If you're the praying kind, turn this song into a prayer..'

Justice delayed is justice denied, a British Prime Minister once said.

When the current incumbent apologized today for events 38 years ago, overdue as it was, it could never be an "end", but rather one step toward a recognition of injustice.

Better late than not at all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

'Captains of the old order, clingin' to the reins..'

We went to the new Meadowlands Stadium last night to see what's already one of the big tours of the summer, a triple-bill headlined by The Eagles, with the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban. I'd never seen any of the acts live so was looking forward to it, as well as checking out the new stadium (almost antiseptically comfortable, as it happens).

I've always had a big soft spot for the Dixie Chicks, liked them a lot musically anyway and then supported and respected them tremendously for how they dealt with the vicious reaction to their opinions about the war in Iraq.

They played a nice set at the Meadowlands, with an unexpected highlight being a version of Train's 'Hey Soul Sister'. As Natalie Maines said, "sometimes a song just comes along that you wish you'd written" (this clip is from the previous show, in Toronto). I've also been listening to Emily and Martie's album as the Court Yard Hounds at home and its really been growing on me.

To be honest, for the first half hour, The Eagles sounded like a really good Eagles tribute band - every note, every harmony in those instinctively familiar west coast songs was perfect, but there wasn't much soul. But when the set turned to some of the great songs by the band's individual members, the show really started.

I've always liked Don Henley's 'Boys of Summer' 'End of the Innocence' or 'Dirty Laundry' - accompanied last night by a great backdrop montage - better than pretty much any Eagles song, and then there's Joe Walsh, just a genius guitar player. How can you not rock out to 'In the City' 'Rocky Mountain Way' or 'Life's Been Good'? (A respectful nod also here to veteran sideman Steuart Smith who shared the guitar duties).

(*update - a couple of days after the show, I literally bumped into Joe in the lobby of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. He was very gracious, even when I told him that the first time I'd seen him play was twenty-eight years ago.)

But without doubt the show-stealer of the night, it has to be said, was Keith Urban. Just as the guy came on stage, the heavens opened and he played his opening couple of songs to the few hundred people who braved the downpour. But then the sun came out and he proceeded to rock the house. Very tight, accomplished band, who gave their frontman every opportunity to interact, and the crowd responded.

My wife had seen him play last year at Madison Square Garden and knew he put on a great show. But as he wandered around the stadium floor, shredding and high-fiving with fans, you could tell he was enjoying it as much as his audience.

Even if you don't consider yourself a "country" fan, he really puts on a show. I'd definitely go back to see him. I haven't been able to find any decent clips of last night's show, so here's a couple of recent acoustic versions that help show what a good all-round entertainer the guy is.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Another year older and deeper in debt..'

Today a year ago, I started my busking project. I learned a lot and enjoyed the experience. I've particularly had a good time connecting with the huge community of journalists, musicians and music-lovers on Twitter. They've definitely made life a lot more fun.

Did I think, though, that I'd still be in the same leaky boat job-wise a year later? I honestly didn't.

The other day I got a standard rejection letter from the BBC for a job I'd forgotten I'd applied for. But at least they bothered to write back, most places don't.

The media industries are still in the throes of re-organizing themselves, but I've been starting to sense that maybe some big shops may have cut back a little too much and there might be some spots opening up where there's a need for experience, rather than just enthusiasm. I certainly hope that's the case, since any decent organization that's building for the future rather than just protecting its past needs a mix of both.

One thing I have noticed recently though, is that people generally - and not just in journalism - seem significantly more disillusioned with their personal work lives. When I overhear conversations on subway platforms, in the pub or at dinner parties, there seems to be a deeper, more profound dissatisfaction than just the usual bitching about the boss.

I went for a job interview a few weeks ago at the invitation of a former colleague. (The new position was subsequently taken off the table because they weren't quite as ready to expand as they thought, so it turned out a wash, but it was good interview experience).

But a few days beforehand, we met for a drink and the harder he tried to sell me on the company, the more I knew he was trying to rationalize his own situation. I used to do the same at one of my old shops. People know times are tough, they know they're often stuck in jobs they probably wouldn't choose, and they know that, for the immediate future at least, anything still might happen. And usually that's anything bad.

Another former colleague - who had also tried to get me an 'in' with his editor which ended up a one-way conversation - saw his job disappear in a 'restructuring', only to reappear, he told me, with a slightly different title and occupied by someone he'd helped train, at a lower salary. Hardly an unusual development these days. He has a wide range of skills though and subsequently did OK, hooking up pretty soon after with a big competitor - ironically the one media company that always seems to be hiring but the one that out of principle I won't work for.

My bottom line is I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to have a conscience. But it's time to move on and maybe try to do something worthwhile that may have nothing to do with journalism. I still believe I have some talents that could help make a difference to the right people.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, an old boss of mine just couldn't take it any more and walked away. I'd done the same, but for him that step was always going to be much less of a no-brainer. I met up with him soon after, and the thing we shared was, overwhelmingly, relief.

Now we're both out of work, but most likely with different approaches as to why.

Anyway. Enough doom and gloom. Here's a listicle of '25 Great Songs About Work' I did a while ago. Back to music tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

'What the people need, is a way to make them smile...'

My wife and I took advantage of the new ferry service from Brooklyn and spent a nice morning over on Governor's Island yesterday. They're gearing up for some decent concerts over the summer, including a July 4th lawn show headlined by Rosanne Cash.

I've always liked open-air summer shows - the first one I remember going to was at Dalymount Park in Dublin in 1979, which was headlined by Status Quo and - would you believe - Judas Priest, but also had Nick Lowe, Christy Moore and The Flamin' Groovies on the bill.

Last summer, we went up to Tanglewood to see James Taylor; an altogether different experience.

To top off a great morning, we stopped in at one of our local pubs on the way home, where there's a regular lunchtime traditional session.

When we were married in Ireland three years ago, we were very fortunate that music was a huge part of our experience and whenever we come across a session like this it helps to bring back some great memories, and it's great to know that there's a healthy traditional session community here in Brooklyn and all over the city.

By way of an update on the thriving local Northern Irish music scene, Aaron Shanley is gigging in California at the moment and has a great new single, 'Somebody To Take Care Of', which is available for free download here.

Also, via the blog Secret Fireworks comes a new - or at least new to me - band called Maguire and I who sound really good (and filmed here in the Botanic Gardens, where I spent many happy days long ago). Look forward to hearing more from them.